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Democracy in Ghana: Everyday Politics in Urban Africa, Jeffrey W. Paller

Reviewed by Benjamin Talton

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Scholarship on political participation in Ghana, which has maintained its status as a “mature” democracy, commonly situates electoral politics as the metrics for the health of good governance. These largely top-down studies fail to capture the essence of civic engagement, partly because of their silence on local-level everyday politics, where citizens are most politically active and invested. Jeffrey W. Paller provides a corrective to this trend in Democracy in Ghana, his impressively researched and persuasively argued first book.

Paller interrogates everyday politics—how people act, think, and feel about power on a daily basis—in seven chapters divided between two parts. Each chapter examines different iterations of governance and development in three neighborhoods in Accra, Ghana’s capital, and, by extension, Paller suggests, cities in Africa. In the two chapters of Part I, his theoretical framework for understanding everyday politics rightly highlights neighborhood-level structures of authority that predate European colonial rule, but he also explains how colonial-era policies and more recent economic structural adjustment programs contribute to the urban political complex. Despite this amalgam of elements, he contends, urbanization has limited transformative potential, because informal norms of settlement and belonging

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